Ramblings

December 2019


Sunday – The meteorological first day of winter. The sky is completely clear but it is not particularly cold. Various cheeps and squeaks accompany me down the street, there are Jackdaws, Blackbirds, Starlings, House Sparrows and Wood Pigeons on the rooftops. It is not until I reach the White Lion that I can see there are dark clouds in the south. It appears that it is colder by the river as there is ice on the railway bridge. A Cormorant flies upstream. The water level in the River Lugg has fallen only slightly. Fresh mole hills have been thrown up on the meadow and along the path beside Brightwells’ compound.

The market is much larger than last week although nowhere near the size of the summer ones. However, much of what is on sale is tat. A Kestrel flies over, not a common sight around here. The Kenwater still flows fast and grey. A Magpie chatters on Pinsley Mead. A Wren hops along the iron footbridge over the river. Another churrs its alarm call from the hedgerow. Back through the town. The Christmas lights were turned on last night. They are fairly limited but there is a lit Christmas tree in the square.

Monday – Leominster – It is the early afternoon, the sky is blue but the wind still blowing strongly after Storm Atiyah blew through. Storm Atiyah was the first named storm of the 2019-20 season and was named by Met Éireann and means gift of god. Along the public footpath beside the railway beyond the White Lion. A flock Jackdaws flying around, circling in the wind before small groups and pairs head off in different directions. Fieldfares and Blackbirds fly up from fallen apples in the Millennium orchard. One cider apple tree, a Lady’s Finger, still has a heavy crop on it but I am not risking my still fragile back by collecting then. Very few trees are holding leaves now. Small catkins have already appeared on Hazels. A flock of a dozen and more Goldfinches are twittering excitedly in trees at the foot of the Minster graveyard. The weathervane on the Minster, a golden cockerel, has its compass points indicating the wrong direction. I wonder how long it has been like this?

Wednesday – Home – There is a break in the weather which has been windy and changeable. I start the winter prune of the fruit trees. The Conference pear has a decided lean as it has grown away from the large Leylandii we recently removed which was shading it. I remove some branches in the hope it will help straighten the tree. I tidy up the Cambridge Gage a little then start on the Herefordshire Russet. A large branch grows out very low down the trunk and I remove it completely. Towards the top is a branch that broke in the autumn so that is also removed. A number of other branches are also growing in strange directions, so they too are pruned. All the trimmings are put through the new shredder which works well.

The dessicated stems of asparagus are chopped down and the runner beans removed. The outdoor tomato troughs are emptied but by now my back is sore so I stop. Goldfinches are twittering in the trees. House Sparrows, Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Chaffinches and, unfortunately, Jackdaws and Grey Squirrels are quickly emptying the newly filled seed feeder and the peanut feeder is emptied every couple of days.

Friday – Home – Another deep depression passed through last night, the pressure again dropping down to 963mB. The news about the General Election is also deeply depressing.

Worcester – Into Worcester along the A44. I park in a side street in St Johns. Grey clouds slide across the sky. Towards the city centre along Bransford Road. A large Georgian house stands behind a tall brick wall. More houses of the 19th century houses lay in small short terraces along with modern developments. Another large Georgian house has a hexagonal tower attached to the side. At the junction with the Malvern Road is the Roman Catholic church of Our Lady Queen of Peace, built in 1950 to the designs of G. R. Acton of Worcester (builders Messrs Spicer of Worcester). It is of brick with a tiled roof and a shaped front gable in the Spanish style. A modern narthex with a tent-like canopy was added to the west front in 2003, designed by DJD Architects of Worcester. An 18th century cottage stands opposite but the junction is mainly made up of a modern car dealership. The shops in Malvern Road are largely a mixture of restaurants and pubs with occasional café and a traditional butchers. An archway carries the legend Cousen’s Hygienic Machine Bakery, 1897.

The church of St John’s in Bedwardine is open. It is possible there was a small Saxon chapel on this site but no church is mentioned in Domesday. This church was started in 1165 although only part of the north arcade contains remnants of that building. The south arcade and chapel date from the 15th century. The building was further enlarged and Churchthe tower built in the 16th century. Galleries were added in 1819 and a Choir Vestry in 1841. The north aisle was rebuilt in 1861. The building was lengthened by 30 feet and the pulpit moved in 1884/5. The galleries on the sides were removed in 1974. The font of 1884,was moved recently for health and safety reasons, people apparently could trip over it! The most impressive monument is that in memory of Abel Gower, 17th century local landowners. In the porch is a monument to John Garmston Hopkins who died aged 13. The east window was inserted when the church was lengthened in 1884. The glass is by Clayton and Bell. There is more glass by that firm along with some by Lavers, Barrand and Westlake. A processional cross is in a case on the west wall. Originally there were six bells dating from 1707 but these were recast in 1816 and 1865 by Thomas Mears of London. Two more bells were added in 1930. A document of 1707 has recently come to light of a contract between the churchwardens and Richard Sanders, bell founder of Bromsgrove to take down the five bells now hanged therein and new cast and run the said bells into six bells of a compleat a form and shape as bells ought to be made.

On to the junction of the Bromyard Road and Malvern Road. A large house abuts the church, the former vicarage built in phases between the early 17th to 20th centuries. Down to Cripplegate Park and through to the River Severn. The large herd of Mute Swans has gathered just beyond the Severn Bridge. Up Bridge Street where the terraces of listed Georgian houses look dirty and shabby. Into the shopping centres to do some shopping. By the time I get back to the car various bits of me are sore and aching although it has not been a long walk. It is clear it will take some time before my body is fit enough for my old style of ramblings. Route

Sunday – Leominster – A waning moon lies high in a seemingly cloudless sky. The sun is still below Eaton Hill leaving black branches against yellow grey skyline. Wood pigeons coo, a single Starling burbles on a rooftop and a Robin sings. A great Black Poplar, festooned with balls of Mistletoe, is silhouetted against the morning sky. As the sky lightens, thin grey cloud are revealed. House Sparrows chirp at the foot of the road. The River Lugg is running fast and high, thick looking with brown mud. A Wren ticks on the riverbank. Easters Meadow is wet and spongy. However there are still plenty of fresh molehills thrown up. Several Goldfinches fly up from riverside path.

The market is tiny, less than 10 stalls and the last before March. They are not even bothering to collect parking fees. Cheaton Brook is flowing rapidly and red into the Lugg. Blackbirds, House Sparrows and a tailless Dunnock hop along Paradise Walk. Like the Lugg, the Kenwater is flowing fast and coloured. Overhead the cloud is thickening.

Home – More work in the garden. A huge Bramble grows in the bottom corner of the garden, good for a crop of blackberries but it blocks the path. So out it comes and the mass of viciously spiked cuttings are put through the shredder. I discover the downside to the new machine, it is not keen on soft leaves which it grinds to a paste that jams the chute. Clearing it is a right pain! Next the thick mat of leaves on the path below the Bramley and other trees is swept up and bagged. Not an easy job as the leaves are beginning to rot down, are waterlogged and very heavy. Finally, the torn branch on the Herefordshire Russet is cut cleanly so that it should not rot.

River Lugg

Thursday – Leominster – After a night of rain the sky still is threatening more. It is however mild for the time of the year around 10°C. Down the road. A chirping House Sparrow stands on the edge of the guttering of one of the cottages in Marlowe’s Court, which consisted of a manse, Leominster Baptist chapel and almshouses built in 1771.

Over the railway Butts Bridge. The River Lugg is running high and fast, the colour of café crème. Blackbirds chunter in the riverside bushes. A Mistle Thrush rasps high in the Black Poplars where aptly it is feeding on Mistletoe. Along Easters Meadow where yet more molehills have been thrown up since the weekend. The river has burst its banks where the path deep down by an old drainage gully. I clamber round through a thicker of dead Stinging Nettles. The path out of the gully is slick and very slippery. At the confluence of the Kenwater and Lugg the water swirls and whirls as it sweeps down southwards. The flood channels beside the DIY superstore have water in them which is quite unusual. Pied Wagtails fly from roof to roof in Broad Street.

Friday – Home – The atmospheric pressure drops yet again as another deep depression sweeps across the country. At least a dozen Jackdaws arranged across our and neighbouring roofs. A Wren is on the wall by our passageway. Wood Pigeons fly off from the vegetable beds as I go to check the chickens. I worry what the pigeons are eating. Although I have only a few brassicas and they are netted, a Wood Pigeon can cause a lot a damage quickly.

Leominster – I head off down the road in the rain. Over the railway to Butts Bridge where the River Lugg has risen even further, rushing and swirling down, still full of mud. Blackbirds seem even more agitated today. Back over the railway and along the footpath past the new Pinsley Mill development where many of the properties still seem to be unoccupied. There are still apples on some of the trees in the Millennium orchard. More than a dozen Blackbirds seek food along Millennium Park. A few Blue Tits flip through the trees at the foot of the churchyard. Into the Peace Garden where, like the Lugg, the Kenwater flows past high and fast. A two carriage old rattler of a train hurtles past, clearly not stopping at the station as it heads towards South Wales. The numerous molehills on Pinsley Mead are slowly eroding succumbing to the relentless rain. Throughout the day warning of floods and reports of road closures come in. A section of the M23 motorway is closed near Gatwick where a stream has burst its banks and flooded the road. The London-Gatwick-Brighton railway line is also closed because of flooding. Those hoping to catch a flight out of Gatwick airport will have a frustrating time trying to get there!

By the early evening the rain has stopped and we cross The Grange to the Priory church for Carols by Candlelight, our annual visit to the church.

Sunday – Leominster-Brighton – Last night the atmospheric pressure dropped to a new low 962.5 MB and of course it rained. This morning the ground is sodden. It is the winter solstice and at 8:00 it is still gloomy. Grey clouds drift across the sky. Robins are singing, scattered around the local gardens. Wood Pigeons clatter out of their roosts high in the trees.

We set off for Brighton, our satnav sending is via the M40. From the Worcester bypass we can see boats on the River Severn riding at the same height as the surrounding land, except of course the land is a vast lake. From the M5 north we see a fair sized flock of Lapwings, sadly something of a rarity these days as modern farming has reduced their numbers by an enormous percentage. It needs to be remembered that cheap supermarket food means hard pressed farmers squeeze every penny out of their land to the detriment of wildlife.

Off down the M40 past numerous flooded fields. The River Cherwell has spread over numerous fields. It is not until we climb out of the Vale of the White Horse that we see our first Red Kite. After that there are good numbers to be seen. The journey round the M25 and down the M23 is quite reasonable.

Monday – Brighton – The morning is damp in Brighton. I leave the house to the sound of dozens of chattering House Sparrows, gulls sweep overhead descending in the gardens seeking food, Rooks and Jackdaws fly to and fro. Lewes Road seems familiar although most the shops now appear to be food outlets and estate agents. The Franklin Arms is still open pub. I recall in the 1980s calling here to pick up a prize donation for the school raffle; it turned out to be several boxes of pre-revolutionary Cuban cigars. My old primary schools looks down from a side street seemingly unchanging. Strangely the two premises are still in the same ownership as when I was young are both funeral directors. The junction with Upper Lewes Road is now totally different. The great viaduct taking the town line has gone and with it the garages in the arches underneath. Cox’ pill factory has gone. The Gladstone pub still stands at the gates of the crematorium and graveyard but opposite the Alexandra Hotel, where once an uncle was landlord, is now electronic cigarette outlet. From here looking back one can see that the Lewis Road Congregational Church is just a façade, the body of the church has gone having been turned into an atrium in front of modern flats.

Brighton-Leominster – We return via Surrey to visit Kay’s family and then along the M4. The roads are busy. As is often the case there is one long stretch of congestion without any obvious cause. Red Kites are frequent. Flooding is also everywhere. Up the M5 where the River Avon is spread over acres of land. It gets dark early.

Christmas Eve – Tuesday – Leominster – Yet again it has rain overnight but this morning most of the sky is blue. It is also very mild. Down to the River Lugg. The water level has dropped substantially and the flow is slower now. A Mistle Thrush is rasping at the top of the Black Poplar, clearly its favourite place to stand and watch the world. Great and Blue Tits chatter in the trees. Ivy is covered in yet to ripened berries. Through the Millennium orchard and up to the Grange. A Robin sings loudly and Jackdaws chack in the trees. The town is quieter than one would have expected.

Hedge Sparrow

Many a sweeter voice than mine
Sounds in the summer bower;
And birds in gayer plumage shine,

Or sing with deeper power:
But do not turn your eye away

Because I’m brown and plain;
Nor scorn the simple songster’s lay,
Though sung in lowly strain.

Evans – Songs of the Birds.

Friday – Leominster – The overnight mist has barely lifted as I head down the road. The air is damp, the ground is damp and little diamonds of water droplets hang from the trees. A Starling chatters from a television aerial, the chack of local Jackdaws rings out. At the station, a crowd stands on the Manchester line side waiting for the next train to pull in. Traffic rushes down the bypass. A black Carrion Crow sits in a silhouette of black tree against the grey sky. Blue Tits chatter below, dashing and out of the trees and brambles. The train pulls in, diesel engines thrumming as I descend the steps.

The River Lugg is lower still and the water is now flowing grey. The resident Mistle Thrush is in the Black Poplar again. A Blackbird watches him as he rasps from the top of the tree. Bursts of song come from a Dunnock or Hedge Sparrow (once known locally as the aizack) in a tree completely covered in Ivy. Easters Meadow is still wet but not as spongy as a week ago. Large fresh molehills have been thrown up along the path. Two Song Thrushes sit in another tall Black Poplar, this one also festooned with Mistletoe. There is a long row of police cars ready for auction in Brightwells’ compound. Nine are emblazoned Heddlu, most of the others are Highways traffic officers’ vehicles. A Wren emits its machine gun rattle from the brambles overlooking the confluence of the Lugg and Kenwater. A Great Tit flies across the river and a Robin is singing in the trees.

From Ridgemoor Bridge the levels of mud on the bank shows that the River Lugg has dropped by 6 to 8 feet. The railings that were smashed several years ago when a lorry left the road by the railway crossing have finally been replaced.

Saturday – Leominster – Although the sky is still covered with grey clouds, it is a little brighter it remains mild. Into Miles Court, the alleyway that runs between the new houses built on an old burgage plot behind the Nook and Cranny and, to the west, a car dealership on the site of large gardens and a tennis court belonging to Dutton House. The alley joins the path that runs down the side of Sidonia Park. The walls at the end of the gardens of the houses in Etnam Street are built on the foundations of the old town wall. Westwards, the wall dog-legs round into what was known as Bloody Alley. At the end of the alley is the old Friends Meeting House, now the masonic lodge, the rear section of which is paved over but was once the meeting house graveyard. The alley emerges onto South Street at the Dishley Street junction. Just south of here was Battle Bridge, over the town ditch, where are a battle occurred in 1052. A raid by Gruffudd ap Llywelyn on Leominster resulted in the Battle of Llanllieni, where the English and French mercenaries from Richards Castle were defeated.

On down South Street. Outside the primary school a small flock of Starlings chatter in a tall tree. High in the same branches are several Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, three Jackdaws and a pair of Wood Pigeons. At Townsend Cottage, a public footpath runs up to Cockcroft Lane. The former lane runs along the top of a ridge of Raglan mudstone which protrudes above the alluvial river valleys on either side created by the Lugg and Arrow. From the top of the ridge, looking westwards, the water meadows from the Hereford Road to Ivington are all underwater.

Out in to Rylands Road where Wood Pigeons are trying to out-coo each other.

Sunday – Leominster – Long before dawn a Song Thrush is singing in the garden. Its song is not the full-blooded spring offering, just a thin repetition of simple notes. Grey clouds cover most of the sky as I head down the street. There will be no market now until March so a simple walk will have to suffice. Two Wood Pigeons compete to out-call each other. A dust cart is collecting refuse. I only wonder what they are called these days probably refuse lorries or refuse removal vehicles, I don’t know (it transpires some authorities call them “Civic Amenity Vehicles”!) A dead mouse lies on the path past the White Lion. Over the railway to Butts Bridge. A pair of Grey Wagtails chase across the river and along the bank. Various squeaks and chatterings come from from the trees, Blue and Great Tits, Wrens, Blackbirds, Robins and Jackdaws although the sound is sparse compared to the spring cacophony.

Back to the White Lion and onwards through to the Millennium Park. A Song Thrush sings by the railway track; this time the song is full and melodic. Dog walkers are out in numbers through the Millennium Park. A quick look at the Kenwater which flows rapidly and grey. Up past the Priory church pausing yet again to appreciate the wonderful Norman west door. Along Church Street where two Wood Pigeons sit silently in the skeletal apple trees in the rectory garden.

Home – I take some salad trimmings out to the chickens. It takes just a few seconds for one to tip the bowl upside down covering up much of the food – sometimes I despair of them. The Song Thrush is still singing in the garden, much more strongly than before. It suddenly falls silent as a Sparrowhawk flies overhead and circles but the raptor is soon seen off by a Magpie which flies up to chase it. Later I undertake the regular sorting out the compost. One of the wooden bins is now full of some excellent compost. The one I have emptied is filled from two of the plastic bins. They have hundreds of Brandling worms in them. Some fall by the way, which will please the local Robin.

Jackdaws visit the feeders regularly. They peck at the peanuts then fly off as soon as anyone approaches. The the Robin usually flies in and grabs a chunk of nut that the Jackdaw has dropped onto the flowerpot dish on the pole beneath, a fairly ineffective barrier to squirrels. At the crepuscular hour the Song Thrush is still in full flow. Blackbirds emit a constant chink chink warning cry.

Monday – Home – I wander out after breakfast to check the hens to discover the automatic door has failed to open. Although the program seems to be working properly, the motor is not. I remove it and take it indoors. Everything looks as it should, the battery indicator shows full batteries, the timing display all looks normal. A problem!

Pines

Leominster – It is a frosty morning with just a haze in the distance. Sky is blue and cloudless just the white vapour trails of a plane high to the east. The aeroplane, an Air France flight from Los Angeles to Paris seems to be above Eaton Hill but in fact it is tracking to the east of Worcester, over 40 to 50 miles away. Across the Grange. On one side there are pines, on the other Wellingtonia, all shining in the golden sunlight against the clear blue skies. A Great Tit calls his two-tone song in the churchyard. Down the Priory to the iron footbridge over the Kenwater. The water level is still fairly high and the grey water is flowing rapidly. Along Paradise Walk between the river and the cricket pitch which is pale with frost. A black spectral Carrion Crow stalks across the mown grass.

Into Mill Street. The footings are going in for the new houses on the site of the old car park for Hop Pole pub. The modern extensions at the back of the pub have been removed leaving just the old mediaeval hall. Back towards the town centre along Bridge Street. Weeds are growing at the bases of properties all the way up the street, the pavements are cracked and broken. A main entrance into the town and it is a shabby mess.

Home – I try new batteries in the door opener and it works. So the battery indicator is not to be trusted. I start pruning a fig tree but need the big pruners which are being used by Kay. So I prune and try to guide the Cox’s apple which is supposed to be an espalier. It will get there. I then drain the oil out of the lawn mower and scrape off the dead and dry grass. Rocket the hen has not laid today – yet – and we are in danger of running out of eggs. Both the other hens have been off-lay for a couple of weeks now.

New Year’s Eve, Tuesday – Bodenham Lake – It is a dismal day the air is wet and it is barely light. Much of the flooding both south of Leominster and at Bodenham has gone leaving shallow pools scattered across the fields. A few scarlet hips remain on the rose briars but most of the other fruits have gone now. There are over 120 Canada Geese at the eastern end of the lake along with several Mallard and four Mute Swans. In the meadow Robins are singing and Wrens emit their staccato alarm calls.

At least thirty Mallard are on the lake along with three Teal, eight Wigeon and a male Goldeneye. Three Mandarin are beside the island. Four Grey Herons stand on a fallen tree which effectively divides the lake. Two adult Mute Swans and four cygnets glide into view. There appear to be no Cormorants present at all. A Moorhen wades through the flooded reed bed. A second drake Goldeneye appears. On the far side, two white objects which look like plastic floats and are motionless for a long time suddenly take off revealing themselves to be two more Goldeneye. Now five Mandarin emerge from behind the island. A single Tufted Duck appears. Although, Canada Geese apart, the numbers of wildfowl are small, it is encouraging to see a variety have returned. A Song Thrush sings beside the hide.

Fieldfares feed on the rotting cider apples in the orchard which has erupted with molehills like a pimply teenage youth. Blue Tits flit across the orchards, a woodpecker drums on one of the tall Cypresses and a Green Woodpecker yaffles from the woods. A whistling thrum marks the passing of two Mute Swans high overhead.

And another year ends and another decade (unless that is next year, one for the pedants). It is hard to be optimistic about the next decade. We seem to be in the thrall of buffoons and neo-Stalinists. It has been heartening to see so many young people coming together to warn of the impending doom of climate change but as Greta Thunberg told the UN, “How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight. You say you ‘hear’ us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.” I hope her belief is justified.